The amendment has — once again – favoured power plants by giving them another two years’ extension to meet the standards for sulphur dioxide (SO2). While the deadline for particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) remains the same as per the last notification, there is a blanket extension of deadline for SO2 emissions for coal-based power plants.
In its reports, CSE has highlighted the fact that sulphur dioxide is a criteria pollutant. Typically, background levels of sulphur dioxide in the ambient air of healthy environments are below 2 g/m3. Its presence over 20 g/m3 (24-hour mean) or 500 g/m3 (10-minute mean) can have severely deleterious effects on health. Recent research has revealed that even a slight increase in sulphur dioxide concentrations in the ambient air affects sensitive groups such as babies, pregnant women and people suffering from asthma or chronic lung diseases. In addition, the pollutant gets accumulated in the air and also converts to secondary particulate matter.
Says Nivit Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution, CSE: “It is ironical that this new notification was issued only two days before the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. Instead of pioneering the movement in spirit, this action could be putting the ‘blue sky’ at stake.”
Yadav adds: “Our analysis shows that till date, only 4 per cent of India’s coal power capacity has installed equipment to control SO2 emissions and another 41 per cent has identified the vendors for supply of the equipment. The remaining 55 per cent of the capacity has not taken any concrete steps to meet the norms even after seven years since the norms were first notified in December 2015.”
In a May 2020 report, — Coal-based power norms – where do we stand today – CSE had established that a huge 70 per cent of the units were not complying with SOx standards and had not even started the process for installation of SO2 control equipment back in 2020 when the study was conducted.
Says Yadav: “Compliance with PM and NOx norms was never a challenge for this sector – SO2 emissions is what needed to be worked on. Our 2020 report shows clearly that more than half the coal power capacity (105 GW) was already complying or was in the process to comply immediately with the PM norms. The remaining capacity (79 GW) was expected to comply with PM norms by 2019-2022. Similarly, a large percentage of coal capacity was in a position to comply with NOx norms by 2021-22.”
Owing to the unpreparedness of majority of coal power plants to meet the norms, primarily SO2 standards, the ministry had disaggregated coal-based power plants into three categories in March 2021, with differentiated deadlines. This disaggregation into categories A, B and C was based on the location of the plants.
The extension granted through the new notification has been very timely for 50 per cent of the capacity in Category A that would have missed the 2022 deadline for meeting the standards. If not for the new notification, all these plants in Category A would have been liable to pay a penalty ranging from Re 0.10-0.20 per unit electricity generated after the lapse of the 2022 deadline. These plants can now continue to flout SO2 norms for another two years without any repercussions.
Another larger gain by this extension is for the old units that are nearing retirement and are the most polluting owing to lower efficiency of plant operation. The notification allows for such units to keep running until their self-declared period of retirement. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has identified 3,912 MW that is ‘to be decommissioned’, but has not revealed for how long are these plants going to operate without having to meet the norms.
The only positive of the new notification is the increase in per unit environmental compensation to be levied on the non-complying units to Re 0.40 from Re 0.20 per unit of electricity generated. “This increase in environmental compensation is however inconsequential as the environment ministry seems to have adopted a strategy to conveniently extend an approaching deadline, thus rendering the compensation clause nothing but a ‘paper tiger’”, says Anubha Aggarwal, programme officer, industrial pollution, CSE.
CSE’s analysis shows that if the deadlines had not been extended vide this new notification, 13 power plants under Category A would have been liable to cumulatively pay a fine of approximately Rs 1.4 crore per day until six months of operation. But now, these plants can keep polluting for another two years without paying the penalty.
Says Yadav: “This move by the environment ministry in concurrence with the Ministry of Power and the CEA, to justify and legalise continuation of pollution by power plants, implies that the health of the people and the environment is the least of its concern.”
( A CSE Media Briefing)
Report- Pratyusha Mukherjee